Alibi V.29 No.35 • Aug 27-Sept 2, 2020 

News Interview

Officer Involved Shootings Are Nothing New

Interview with civil rights attorney Rachel Higgins

Crime Scene Do Not Cross
Kat Wilcox / Pexels License

Officer involved shootings are not new to the Albuquerque Police Department.

Dozens of shootings took place from 2000 to 2014, and the subsequent public outcry brought the U.S. Department of Justice into the city’s police department to oversee reform measures under a consent decree.

It doesn’t seem like lessons learned stood the test of time. Going back a bit further, in the 1990s, dozens more police killings brought less-than-lethal measures such as bean bag guns and tasers to the force. But their use, and the use of dogs, resulted in more lawsuits, and police went back to the easier way: shooting people.

It is all about the training. What is being taught at the state’s law enforcement academies shows up on the streets in how officers handle stressful and rapidly changing situations. The Albuquerque Police Department is still operating under the federal consent decree, so there is an additional layer of oversight if things get out of hand and lessons learned are forgotten.

Say Their Names

Jay Murphy, 2007; Kenneth Ellis, 2010; Len Fuentes, 2010; Christopher Torres, 2011; Alan Gomez, 2011; James Boyd, 2014; Mary Hawkes, 2014; Dennis Humphrey, 2016. The list goes on and on.

Beloved University-area bartender Ken Reiss’ death on Aug. 11 was the sixth APD officer-involved shooting this year and the second on that very day. Weekly Alibi sat down for a COVID-safe conversation with Rachel Higgins, attorney for the Reiss family. This is what she had to say.

Rachel Higgins: On behalf of Ken's family and friends, a group that is frankly too large in number to count, thank you for endeavoring in a search for the truth about Ken's death.

Weekly Alibi: What can you tell us about the events leading up to the shooting?

At this point APD has not released any information to the family or the public, other than the brief statements made to the press. A search warrant applied for and issued to Albuquerque Police Department on 8/11/20 at 6:10am (hours after the shooting took place) indicates that at 12:24am on August 11, Mr. Reiss called 911 for help. He reported that armed assailants had broken into his home and that he had shot at the assailants. Based on the information in the warrant, which describes communications between Mr. Reiss and the 911 dispatch operator, it appears that Mr. Reiss was actively defending his life and perhaps the life of someone else who was with him in his home as he spoke to the operator. The warrant indicates that Mr. Reiss said there had been a "fight over the previous weekend over a woman." It appears that as Mr. Reiss spoke to dispatch, he exited his home in an attempt to get away. The identity of Mr. Reiss' guest, if he had one, has not been reported or disclosed. The video provided by a neighbor's Ring doorbell shows Mr. Reiss taking cover behind a car for protection.

Is there any history of any other calls to Mr. Reiss' residence?

The warrant issued did not state any history of calls at this location, which would normally be included had there been any such history.

When we listen/watch the various Ring and Nest doorbells footage from the residents who captured the shooting, we do not hear the officers identify themselves as Albuquerque Police Officers when they were giving commands to Mr. Reiss. Does this matter?

It matters a great deal. Police officers should make their presence and identity as officers known, both for their safety and the safety of others. The circumstances here involved an armed home invasion of Ken Reiss' home by multiple assailants in the middle of the night. Between the time of the 911 call to dispatch and their arrival, Mr. Reiss had been forced to actively defend his life by firing shots, then flee his home. The possibility that Mr. Reiss had been injured or wounded as a result was very high. The stress, confusion and fear that Mr. Reiss must have been experiencing as he waited for officers to arrive and assist is unimaginable. Police knew Mr. Reiss was fighting for his life and waiting for their help. Instead, it appears that APD conducted an "invisible deployment" without lights, sirens or police announcements. In other words, they arrived on scene in the cover of darkness. APD should have immediately made their presence known for their and Ken Reiss' safety.

We also hear about 15 shots? Is that an excessive amount of shots for the situation?

Yes. Under no set of circumstances was it necessary or reasonable for officers to fire 15 shots at Mr. Reiss at close range. The number of shots indicates that multiple officers were firing and that no one officer was in charge or in control of the situation. Lapel camera video recorded by the responding officers will be critical to an understanding of why this occurred.

We hear from neighbors that Mr. Reiss' house was left pretty much unsecured and open after APD searched his residence. What implications does this have?

Many. First, as a matter of human decency and respect, Mr. Reiss's home should have been secured, particularly since police entered and served a warrant therein. Next, this failure calls into question whether APD has any intention of collecting and processing the remaining evidence in Mr. Reiss's home in an attempt to determine the identities of the armed assailants or the events that took place inside Ken's home.

What would the family and friends like the public to know about Mr. Reiss?

Ken Reiss is survived by his son Devon, Aspen Rose Doyle, innumerable dear friends who have been the fortunate recipients of Ken's generosity, humor, grace, intelligence and great company over the years. Ken's death has left behind a thousand broken hearts. His vast community of friends and loved ones are in total disbelief regarding APD's recounting of the events leading up to Ken's death. Not a single person who knew Ken believes that he shot at police after calling them to help save his life. An independent investigation should be commenced by the District Attorney's Office immediately so that the truth can be known, and so that those responsible for Ken's needless death can be held accountable.